Under Oklahoma law, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers are responsible for transporting individuals who require mental health services under Emergency Orders of Detention (EOD). This is an expensive and time consuming process for the agencies but Sen. Ron Sharp has filed Senate Bill 252 to help by allowing them to contract with third parties to provide such services.
“This is the first step in fixing this inefficient process that’s putting a financial strain on our law enforcement agencies and stretching their forces too thin,” said Sharp, R-Sharp. “This is a real problem in smaller communities and rural areas where agencies are already understaffed but are obligated to send an officer, and often times two officers, for several hours to transport a mentally ill person to a facility and wait on their evaluation. This is not a good use of time or resources. We need to allow agencies to fulfill this particular duty in the way that is most time and cost effective for them.”
An Emergency Order of Detention (EOD) is a process under which a person is deemed to be a danger to self or others due to a diminished mental capacity. Law enforcement must transport these individuals to the nearest medical facility for evaluation. Once at the medical facility, the officer must contact the mental health organization that contracts with the state Department of Mental Health to evaluate such cases. If the subject is deemed by the mental health professional to be a danger to self or others, arrangements are made to transport the subject to a facility with an open bed, for further evaluation. During the evaluation, the officer is required to stay with the subject who is “in custody”. Finally, the subject is entitled to a court hearing within three days and the officer(s) must pick the individual up at the crisis facility and take him or her to court.
Besides taking officers away from their official duties, the process also puts a tremendous financial strain on state law enforcement agencies. For example, from April 3, 2011, through April 2, 2012, the Stillwater Police Department (SPD) handled 197 EODs. Using best case time spent by officers, and average associated costs, SPD estimated that a minimum of $87,000 was spent on EODs. To allow on-duty officers to answer calls for service, SPD often has to use off-duty personnel at overtime rates for OEDs. The agency said that it takes a minimum of 26 personnel hours for one OED.
“We need to ensure that officers can focus on their community and county calls for service, which are imperative for protecting local residents,” said Sharp. “In order to do that, we must allow law enforcement agencies to utilize professional contract services to get mentally ill individuals to the proper facilities for evaluation and treatment.”